We took full advantage of the three day weekend and went backpacking.It was a spectacular weekend, despite a few unexpected challenges.
(minor) Challenge #1 . Jen had some symptoms of heat exhaustion on the way in. Neither of us were expecting an alpine hike to be so hot. The first part of the trail was uphill, exposed and dry, and one of us (not Sara) wasn't drinking enough. Fortunately, we both saw the signs, and stopped to rest the shade until a full recovery was made.
(moderate) Challenge #2 . Fall Creek trail... part of the trail is missing in an avalanche/blow down. We knew this ahead of time and decided to use the map and compass to find the trail again on the other side of the blow down. It took over an hour of hiking over huge downed trees and limbs, but we did indeed find it. After we navigated through that mess, we decided to do a loop that would add a couple miles to our hike but prevent having to go back through the blow down....little did we know....
(major) Challenge #3 . Cascade Creek trail... the trail from Hell itself. Ok, I exaggerate. It could have been worse, it could have been poorly marked, poorly graded, unmaintained, dangerous AND buggy. But fortunately there were few biting bugs. The trail had not been maintained and the landscape is lush and overgrown, which meant we lost the trail at least once in every 1/4 to 1/2 mile of 2.7 mile trail. Further, it was mostly overgrown with thorny plants, like wild rose and hawthorn, it was no fun pushing through those. Not even the switchbacks were clear, and the trail grade was so steep in places that we should have opted to turn back....in other circumstances we would have...but
(moderate) Challenge #4. We were losing daylight....The combination of a losing the trail over and over and the dangerous conditions meant we were hiking less than a mile an hour...at 6:00 pm...with 4.5 miles total to go. It would have been 7.5 miles if we had turned back but would have been just as difficult to re-find all the painstakingly found trail pieces we had lost and found again. So, we pressed on, in hopes of not having to spend the night out. And to add insult to injury....
(minor) Challenge #5. Jen had had a blowout...at mile 4...with 8 to go....which required 3 repair attempts. Only the very back of the heel of my boot was still attached, making for an unpredictable, unstable, slippery foot fall. Ok, so it sounds like misery. But, it wasn't all that bad.
1. We both were well hydrated, not starving, and in good physical condition to press on slowly and carefully. We are experienced in woods and not prone to panic.
2. We had emergency provisions with us, an emergency blanket, water, fire starters, other first aid and common sense. Spending the night in the woods, would have been uncomfortable and annoying but not life-threatening.
3. The valley ran west to east, so we had sun until 9 and dusk didn't fall until after 10pm.
4. We knew if we made it off the Hell trail, and across the river safely, then the 2.5 miles (and second river crossing) back to our camp was well marked, gently graded, and we could do in the dark...if need be.
Which is exactly what we did...and after a tense moment in the black dense foliage by the river, we emerged from Hell, crossed the river, jogged/hiked the 2.5 miles down the trail to our camp (with the sole of Jen's shoe flopping the whole way), crossed the river again and made it safely back to home base.
And let me tell you...a 10pm sponge bath in a glacial stream and dehydrated beef stroganoff never felt or tasted so good!
Overall, it was a fantastic trip. It was one of the most beautiful hikes we have ever been on. There were over 20 different varieties of wildflowers, more than I have ever seen. The view from the pass was amazing, I can't wait to hike up again and go all the way to the peak.
The pictures just cannot do justice to the immensity and feel of being on the pass with three valleys visible below and huge mountain ranges in the distance.
As for the Cascade Creek trail... we are a little annoyed. Our map indicated it was maintained, the Forest service website says its open and maintained....but it clearly has not been maintained for at least couple of years. There was more than one seasons overgrowth on that trail, there were no warnings or updates about the trail at the trail head, on the website or at the trail markers.
Of course, unintended adventure will be easily avoided in the future by calling the ranger station to ask about the last trail maintenance for every trail in the area we intended to hike into. It won't be hard to do.